A student-run consultancy firm – with an annual turnover of DKK two million plus!
A day with Emil Smidt Nielsen, who is not only taking a MSc in business administration but is also a member of the management of the student-run consultancy company Junior Consult. A bit slick? Yes, perhaps. But ordinarily the dress code is certainly more shorts and sandals than shirt and tie, while lunch is tinned mackerel with mayo.
Emil Smidt Nielsen is getting ready for a meeting with a production company in Aalborg together with Nina Enggaard. Junior Consult hopes to sign a contract with the company. They are sitting at a glass table in Junior Consult’s conference room in an older building behind Vestergade in the centre of Aarhus. Emil is taking a Master's in business administration with a specialisation in international economic consulting, while Nina is completing a Bachelor’s degree in economics.
The potential customer has an annual turnover in excess of a quarter of a billion Danish kroner. They have asked Junior Consult to give them a price for a customer and competitor analysis.
"But I can’t reveal the company’s identity as we haven’t signed a contract with them, yet. Plus, things are extra sensitive as they’ve asked for a competitor analysis," explains Emil.
But why would such a large company choose to collaborate with a student-run consultancy firm?
"One of their employees had heard of Junior Consult through his son who is studying with one of our consultants," explains Emil.
"In fact, we don’t do a lot of sales. Half of our projects come via existing customers. The other half come via our contacts in the business community, typically former employees from Junior Consult. And we also have competitive prices because we’re all students."
With a satisfied look, Emil tells me that Junior Consult earned more than DKK two million in turnover for the financial year 2012-13 and that is a record for the company’s 25 years.
Lots of responsibility
Nina takes notes while they plan how to run the client meeting. She was hired in February, so this is the first project she is involved in. Emil has worked for Junior Consult for about two years and is, therefore, the project manager.
"Once Nina has been involved in some projects as a consultant she can start to manage her own projects and run them together with a consultant. So she’ll quickly be given some responsibility. I joined the management within a year of starting here," says Emil and continues:
"That’s what I really like about working here. We’re quickly given responsibility and we’re involved in the process from the first client meeting via the analysis work to delivering the report itself to the customer. As a student assistant at one of the big consultancies you’d typically only be involved in one part of a project."
For Emil, his job at Junior Consult is not so much about earning some extra money. He sees it as a springboard to a career in one of the larger consultancy firms after graduating.
"I really believe it makes a big difference on a CV. If you want to get into the consultancy business then it would be hard to find a more relevant student job. I can say that I’ve managed projects with several consultants. And working as part of the management means I’ve not only been involved in job interviews and staff development dialogues, I’ve also had strategic influence."
Even though he has not yet begun his Master's thesis, he has already begun hunting for a job.
"I’m going to start applying very soon. In the consultancy business it’s normal practice to sign a contract six months before you graduate," he says. He doesn’t sound like a man who is worried about ending up in the unemployment queue.
Behind the polished veneer
At Junior Consult there is no need for the "Your mother doesn’t work here! Clear up after yourself!" signs. There are no forgotten packed lunches lying around or old beer cans on the shelves. The glasses on the conference table are filled with water and there are stylish wooden sculptures on the windowsill.
"Things need to be reasonably presentable as we have to meet clients here," explains Emil.
But once you look behind the polished veneer, you find unmistakeable signs of student life.
"If you open the white cupboard over there, you’ll find our bar. And if you look in our kitchen, you’ll see our special lunch scheme starring tinned mackerel. We have free mackerel and mayo at the office because it’s good and also cheap and we can’t afford to go out and eat lunch at one of the cafés. And if you came by on a Friday afternoon the chances are you’d find a few people hanging out for a traditional Friday happy hour."
On the company website the male consultants appear in black suit jackets and shirts while the female consultants are dressed in smart white blouses.
"Well, we’re an ambitious flock but that doesn’t mean we always wear polished shoes and light blue shirts. That’s not the image we try to present. We haven’t got a dress code and usually people sit here in shorts and sandals."
He points to his shirt and nods down towards the shiny black shoes, saying laughingly:
"This is just because you were coming to take photos.”
Not just straight A students
Emil tells us that having a job at Junior Consult is not only about fostering career opportunities.
"The social aspect is meaningful as well. I come here to eat lunch a lot even when I’m not at work and on Fridays we often arrange a Friday bar together. And then there’s the annual summer party, Christmas party, alumni day, strategy day, and the strategy seminar. The social aspect really means a lot and it’s something that we really stress when we recruit people. They must be really good academically, but we don’t just want to end up with straight A students who aren’t interested in being social."
In addition to Nina and Emil, another consultant is sitting in the office while working on his Master's thesis together with his thesis partner. Studies have first priority – even when you spend between five and 40 hours a week on the company, as Emil does.
"It can be a bit of a dilemma, but we have a rule that says your studies have top priority. Luckily, working here is very flexible and you can plan around the degree programme’s exams and major assignments."
Junior Consult is a consultancy firm run exclusively by AU students, primarily from BSS. The students sell consultancy services such as market surveys and customer satisfaction surveys to businesses.
Junior Consult operates as an association, meaning that the company’s revenues go to the students' salaries, rent and operation of the firm.
At present Junior Consult employs 23 students who typically work for the company until their Master's thesis reaches a critical point. So there is a constant staff turnover and the company recruits new consultants twice yearly in February and September. Employees are normally with the company for 2-3 years.
The students are paid DKK 200 per hour for work on projects, but they are also expected to work voluntarily in the association, for example with planning company events or the summer party and alumni day.
Translated by Peter Lambourne